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Posted: Wednesday May 20, 2009 1:50PM; Updated: Wednesday May 20, 2009 1:51PM
Joe Posnanski Joe Posnanski >
INSIDE BASEBALL

Talkin' Randy Johnson (cont.)

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Joe: That gets us to the larger point. Seems to me that Randy Johnson has in some ways been overshadowed in his own generation. It isn't that people missed the point that the Unit has been a great pitcher -- the guy has won five Cy Young Awards -- it's that I'm not sure people realize just HOW great he has been.

Why? It's funny: I think it's because while everyone will talk and talk about all the steroids and home runs during the Selig Era, and everyone will talk about how offense dominated the last 15 to 20 years, the truth is that the last 15 to 20 years have given us four of the best pitchers in the history of baseball.

And I just find that richly ironic: I don't believe there has ever been an era in baseball history that gave us four pitchers as good as Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson. So while Johnson has been Nolan Ryan with control (the Unit's 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings is the best ever), while he had a longer Koufax-like peak*, while he's about to win his 300th game, he's still widely viewed as the fourth-best pitcher of his time.

*Koufax from 1963 to 1966 famously went 97-27 (.782 winning percentage) with a 1.86 ERA (a 172 ERA+ -- meaning his ERA was 72 percent better than the average pitcher of his time) and he averaged 307 strikeouts per year.

Johnson from 1995 to 2002 went 143-44 (.765 winning percentage) with a 2.61 ERA (a 177 ERA+ -- meaning his ERA was 77 percent better than the average pitcher of his time) and he averaged 302 strikeouts per year (despite missing most of the 1996 season).

Bill: I'm always leery about debating the historical standing of active players, because there are so many things that you won't see now that will be obvious to everybody in five years. In 30 years of writing stupid stuff I've made more comments that looked stupid five years later about rating active players historically than about anything else. And I've been trying to avoid it for the last 29 years.

But yes, if you're going to argue that Clemens or Pedro or Maddux is the greatest ever, I think you kind of have to include Randy.

I have a system of "ranking" seasons by pitchers. It's not a perfect system, I suppose -- my point system considers: wins, losses and saves; strikeouts and walks; innings pitched and ERA -- but one of its virtues is that it is not made up to make Randy Johnson look good, or to make Roger Clemens look good, or anything like that ... it's just made up to compare seasons.

By this system the best season by any of these four pitchers (Randy, Clemens, Maddux and Martinez) was Pedro's in 1999 (23-4, 2.07 ERA, 313 strikeouts, 37 walks).

However, the second-best season by any of the pitchers was Johnson's in 2002, the third-best is Johnson's in 2001, and, of the 10 best seasons by these four pitchers, Randy has six. (Pedro and Clemens have two each.)

Then I looked at every two-year stretch by any of these pitchers, every three-year stretch, every four-year stretch, etc., up to 15 years.

The best two-year stretch by any of these pitchers, by my method, is Randy's in 2001-2002 (45-11, 2.31 ERA, 706 strikeouts).

The best three-year stretch by any of these pitchers was Randy's from 2000-2002 (64-18, 2.39 ERA, 1,053 strikeouts).

The best four-year stretch was Johnson's from 1999 to 2002 (81-27, 2.39 ERA, 1,417 strikeouts). This is the only four-year stretch by any of these pitchers in which he won 80 games. Clemens won 100 games over a stretch of five years (as did Johnson), but never won 80 over a stretch of four years.

The best five-year stretch was Johnson's from 1998 to 2002 (100-38, 2.54 ERA, 1,746 strikeouts). Clemens also won 100 games from 1986 to 1990, but his winning percentage was lower (100-42), his ERA higher and he had 500 fewer strikeouts.

The best six-year stretch was Johnson's from 1997 to 2002 (120-42, 2.49 ERA, 2,037 strikeouts). Johnson was the only pitcher in the group to win 120 games over a stretch of six years, and this was the longest stretch of seasons averaging 20 or more wins by any of these pitchers.

Joe: It just makes me hope that Johnson gets his 300th victory soon, and with a nice performance. He has been one of the best ever. It would be rotten for people to remember him as the guy who wobbled to the finish line.

 
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